The title of this post is misleading, inasmuch as (1) I don’t think this can technically be considered a curry, and (2) it’s not just eggplant. But what can I say?! ‘A super easy eggplant, tomato & chickpea curry type thing’ just didn’t have the same ring to it.
The star of this dish is definitely the zhoug – with the eggplant, in all of its melty, buttery goodness, coming in close second. If you don’t know: zhoug is a sort of magical Middle Eastern condiment made by blending fresh herbs with garlic, oil, and tons and tons of chili (but don’t worry if you don’t like too much heat – we’ll get to that in a minute!). I tried it for the first time after a friend and colleague raved about this incredible Middle Eastern wrap (sabih) she’d had with this spicy green sauce, and I was so intrigued that I made it that very same night – and the rest is history.
At this point we’re bordering on obsessed with zhoug around here, particularly when it’s paired with roasted eggplant and pillowy soft flatbread. While usually that means sabih (a similar version to what we make is online with gorgeous pictures here), we’ve more recently discovered that it goes with so much more!
The recipe for this eggplant curry was inspired by a spectacular rice pilaff in Greg & Lucy Malouf’s beautiful book New Feast. The pilaff is served with flatbread, yoghurt and zhoug, and is seriously a showstopper. You wouldn’t expect a humble rice dish to be so good, but it really is!
However, seeing as I work from home and am literally on my butt all day long, it’s hard to justify wrapping rice in flatbread. It’s possible – ‘that walk to the supermarket was really strenuous’ or ‘I worked so hard today and it’s a proven fact that your brain runs on carbs HENCE’ – but it’s a dangerous game to play. So I’ve tried to preserve the heart of the pilaff but make it more of an every-night sort of meal rather than the delicious carb bomb that it is.
This curry still has all of the same flavours as the pilaff, but I’ve replaced the rice with chickpeas for more protein and fibre. To keep the dish from becoming too wet, I fry the eggplant off separately, and then don’t add it to the tomatoes until they’ve almost totally evaporated. Then, as per the Maloufs’ instructions, right before serving I throw in some freshly chopped parsley and mint – and this is the showstopper. I may be late to the party here, but fresh mint in a tomato curry?! Simply divine.
I’ve tried a few variations of zhoug, and I suspect there are many more. This one is a sort of mix of Tamimi & Ottolenghi’s in Jerusalem and the one in New Feast. While the Maloufs’ recipe calls only for coriander and goes big on garlic (six raw cloves!), I’ve followed Tamimi & Ottolenghi here and thrown in some parsley and kept the garlic to a more moderate level. On the other hand, I love the Maloufs’ use of caraway seeds – with their anise-y flavour, they really do bring tons of freshness to the zhoug.
(If you’re wondering what on earth you might use caraway seeds for besides zhoug: marinated feta. Trust me. Simply drizzle a bit of olive oil on some feta, sprinkle with caraway seeds, and you have got yourself something too delicious to be allowed. Use it with any sort of hearty tomato-based stew or grain dish.)
If you don’t like spicy food, fret not! You have total control over how much spice goes into your zhoug. You can skip the fresh chilis and simply throw a bit of cayenne pepper in there, or you could also choose not to add any spice at all and it would still be bright and herbaceous and delicious. It’s all up to you, baby!
This eggplant curry with flatbread, zhoug and yoghurt is a delicious and warming vegetarian meal, bursting with fresh herbs and hearty flavours.
*For some reason I don't find this step necessary when I roast eggplant in the oven, but for frying it makes all the difference. (You could obviously roast your eggplant in the oven for this curry - it'll just take longer!)